The tax was expected to raise $735 million, with three-quarters of that going towards funding cancer research
Photo by MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images.
A California referendum that would impose a $1-a-pack cigarette tax was losing Wednesday but the race remained too close to call and could remain undecided until early next month.
As Forbes explains, state officials released "semi-election results" showing that the public referendum, known as Proposition 29, was trailing 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent with 100 precincts reporting. But that margin—a scant 63,160 votes—isn't enough to decide the race because many ballots aren't counted on Election Day, and county officials have until July 6 to report their final tallies. According to the Associated Press, "hundreds of thousands of ballots potentially remained uncounted."
Prop 29 had at one time been anticipated to pass with two-thirds of the vote, but opponents managed to pull even coming down the home stretch thanks in part to the spending power of big tobacco. Cigarette companies funneled close to $50 million into efforts opposing the tax, while anti-smoking groups raised an estimated total of $18 million.
The proposition attracted prominent supporters including cyclist Lance Armstrong and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Prop 29 backers anticipated the levy would raise $735 million annually, which would fund cancer research and programs to reduce smoking among Californians. The California state cigarette tax currently stands at 87 cents per pack, well below the national average of $1.46.
However, opponents saw it as just another tax adding to the burdens of an already difficult financial time. General practitioner Dr Marcy Zwelling told CNN that voters were skeptical of the tax, concerned it would "build bigger bureaucracy, build business, build buildings, not necessarily go to cancer research."